A lack of research around diversity and inclusion in the local startup environment led Ruchika Tulshyan to team up with researchers to collect data. You can contribute.
I recently read that just 17 percent of Seattle venture-backed startups have a founding team with at least one woman. Combined with data that Seattle came in last in a global ranking of the top 20 cities for women in technology, I was dismayed that some of our most innovative companies here seem to have a woman problem.
As I looked for an explanation, I couldn’t find any data from Seattle startup-specific research on gender diversity. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a study of the sort. So I teamed up with gender equity consultant Martha Burwell and Christy Johnson, founder and CEO of Artemis Connection, to create one.
We couldn’t use similar research from other startup epicenters, Elephant in the Valley in the Bay Area, for example, to accurately draw conclusions on why such few women are founding and leading companies here in the Pacific Northwest. Stories in that survey showed widespread sexual harassment and gender bias, which made us wonder whether similar obstacles could exist locally, too.
Techstars surveyed 700 startup founders from different countries to learn that even though most founders saw the benefits of a diverse and inclusive team, just 23 percent believed diversity is linked to improved financial performance. That’s surprising, given there’s enough data to show a strong correlation between business results and more women in leadership. But, again, this study didn’t clue us into region-specific challenges, nor did it look into the experiences of employees at those companies.
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From anecdotal and personal experience, the researchers have reason to believe that the barriers to gender equity in Seattle startups are linked to but also unique from what studies show are faced by other startup hubs. This guided our rationale to launch the survey.
Until December 20, my team is seeking responses from male and female startup founders or employees. The criteria is that the startup must have 250 employees or less, but can be based in any industry. The company must be headquartered in the Puget Sound area. All surveys are anonymous.
We’re hoping that having numbers on hand will get more companies to think critically about challenges for women to succeed in the local startup ecosystem. We are at a critical time when the next large, global company could already be taking shape in a garage, coffee shop or co-working space in town. Using the data we find, plus through sharing stories of people’s experiences anonymously, we are hoping more founders and employees will take action to build diverse and inclusive companies.
My team’s eventual goal is for smaller companies to build inclusion into their very cultures as they grow, rather than try to retroactively “fit it in.” As behemoths like Google and Microsoft are learning, “correcting” for diversity once you are very large can be an insurmountable task. We’re optimistic that the results can spark insightful conversations and actionable goals for our small and innovative local companies.
Please take the survey here.